In July 2009 in Afghanistan "74 foreign troops were killed, including 43 Americans," AP reported Sunday, and noted that "A record 62,000 U.S. troops are now in Afghanistan, more than double the number in the country a year ago.  President Barack Obama has increased the U.S. focus on Afghanistan, even as the Pentagon begins pulling troops out of Iraq.  Other NATO countries have some 39,000 troops in Afghanistan."[1]  --  "Three U.S. troops were killed Saturday in southern Kandahar province when roadside bombs ripped through their patrol," Jason Straziuso said, "while a French soldier died in a gunbattle north of the capital. . . . Roadside bombs have become the militants' weapon of choice in Afghanistan, and the number of such attacks has spiked this year.  U.S. troops say militants are now using bombs with little or no metal in them, making them even harder to detect.  Militants are also planting multiple bombs on top of one another and planting several bombs in one small area."  --  The British Defense Minister said Sunday that the Taliban had been underestimated, and the British ambassador to the United States, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, said that British troops could be stuck in Afghanistan for "decades," the London Daily Mail reported.[2]  --  Sen. John McCain, who plans to visit Afghanistan in August, said Sunday on CNN that the U.S. appeared to need to send more troops to Afghanistan.[3]  --  On Monday, Time's Tony Karon noted that "[a]t first glance" the Obama administration's strategy in Afghanistan "doesn't seem to make sense."[4]  --  Karon went on to conclude with a Catch-22 worthy of Joseph Heller:  "Americans don't want a long war in Afghanistan.  But the only way to avoid one may be to convince Afghans that the U.S. isn't going anywhere." ...

1.

NATO SAYS 3 U.S. TROOPS KILLED IN AFGHAN BATTLE
By Jason Straziuso

** August off to deadly start in Afghanistan: NATO says 3 US troops killed in battle **

Associated Press
August 2, 2009

http://wire.antiwar.com/2009/08/02/nato-says-3-us-troops-killed-in-afghan-battle-2/

Militants in eastern Afghanistan attacked U.S. forces with gunfire Sunday after a roadside bomb hit their convoy. Three American troops died in the attack, officials said.

July was the deadliest month for international troops since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, but August has gotten off to a lethal start.

The three U.S. deaths Sunday bring to nine the number of NATO troops killed already this month, after six NATO troops died on Saturday. Six of the nine were American.

Last month, 74 foreign troops were killed, including 43 Americans.

A record 62,000 U.S. troops are now in Afghanistan, more than double the number in the country a year ago. President Barack Obama has increased the U.S. focus on Afghanistan, even as the Pentagon begins pulling troops out of Iraq. Other NATO countries have some 39,000 troops in Afghanistan.

"We have a lot more troops in country. We have a lot more operations ongoing, and it increases our contact with the enemy, and that unfortunately results in an increase in casualties," said Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

Sidenstricker said she could release no more details about Sunday's attack, including the province in eastern Afghanistan in which it occurred. Military officials still had to inform family members of the deaths, she said.

Three U.S. troops were killed Saturday in southern Kandahar province when roadside bombs ripped through their patrol, while a French soldier died in a gunbattle north of the capital. Two other NATO troops were killed on Saturday, NATO announced on Sunday, but the troops' nationalities were not immediately released.

Roadside bombs have become the militants' weapon of choice in Afghanistan, and the number of such attacks has spiked this year. U.S. troops say militants are now using bombs with little or no metal in them, making them even harder to detect. Militants are also planting multiple bombs on top of one another and planting several bombs in one small area.

U.S. commanders have long predicted a spike in violence in Afghanistan this summer, the country's traditional fighting season, and Taliban militants have promised to disrupt the country's Aug. 20 presidential election. Heavy violence in the country's south could close scores of polling stations, calling into question the legitimacy of the vote if a large percentage of southern Afghans are kept from voting.

2.

AFGHAN WAR COULD LAST 'FOR DECADES': WE UNDERESTIMATED THE TALIBAN, SAYS MINISTER
By Kirsty Walker

Daily Mail (London)
August 3, 2009

Original source: Daily Mail (London)

The Taliban were underestimated by the nations fighting them in Afghanistan, the Defense Minister admitted yesterday.

Bill Rammell said the 'challenge from insurgents in Helmand province is greater than we anticipated.'

His comments came after Britain's most senior diplomat warned U.K. troops could be stuck fighting in Afghanistan for 'decades'.

Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the ambassador to Washington, warned Britain faced a 'long-term commitment' in the country.

Sir Nigel's bleak assessment came after the bloodiest month of fighting, during which 22 British troops were killed.

His warning that the campaign could drag on for 'decades' is the longest timetable ever given by a senior British figure.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Sir Nigel said: 'We're going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan's future. This is not just one year.

'This is going to be for decades. We're going to help them get to a state which can they can ward off the return of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.'

Sir Nigel's comments came amid mounting speculation that Britain is going to be asked to send an extra 2,000 troops. U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, who is conducting a review mission there, is reported to want the Afghan army and police increased from 150,000 to around 400,000 -- which would require an extra 12,000 military trainers.

But a hard-hitting report by MPs yesterday warned that troops in Afghanistan are suffering from 'mission creep.'

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee said the armed forces had been burdened with an ever-growing list of responsibilities since 2001.

It warned soldiers should be concentrating on protecting security rather than tackling drugs or bolstering human rights and state-building.

The MPs said bad planning by the Government and a lack of direction meant the mission -- which has cost 191 British lives -- has been undermined.

Mr. Rammell dismissed the criticism. The Defense Minister said: 'We are focused on security and I think, with respect, the Foreign Affairs Committee is a bit behind the game.'

However, he added: 'I will acknowledge that the scale of the challenge from insurgents in Helmand province is greater than we anticipated. We are responding to that.'

3.

McCAIN SAYS U.S. MAY NEED MORE TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN

** McCain says additional troops may be needed in Afghanistan, waits for commanders' assessment **

Associated Press
August 2, 2009

http://wire.antiwar.com/2009/08/02/mccain-says-us-may-need-more-troops-in-afghanistan/

Sen. John McCain says it appears that the U.S. needs to send more troops to Afghanistan.

McCain says he will be guided in matters such as troop levels by the commanders on the ground. He adds that he has confidence in the judgment of the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

The Obama administration agreed this year to increase the number of troops by 21,000 but may not be inclined to send even more. Current forces include 62,000 U.S. troops and 39,000 allied troops, plus about 175,000 Afghan Army and police.

McCain plans to visit Afghanistan during the Senate's August recess.

The Arizona Republican spoke to CNN's "State of the Union" for its Sunday broadcast.

4.

DOES THE U.S. HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN?
By Tony Karon

Time
August 3, 2009

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1914224,00.html

At first glance, the Obama Administration's Afghanistan policy doesn't seem to make sense. It is escalating military involvement in a conflict its own officials freely admit can't be won on the battlefield -- and this despite the growing cost in blood and treasure and an awareness of the limited patience of the U.S. public for another open-ended counterinsurgency war. And this at the same time as some of the key diplomats tasked with handling the conflict are speaking openly of the need to integrate most of those fighting for the Taliban into Afghanistan's political order.

But while those impulses may appear to be working at cross purposes, they may in fact combine to achieve the war's purpose as defined by President Obama -- and thus form the basis of an apparent exit strategy.

July was the deadliest month for U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan since they arrived there at the end of 2001, with 70 foreign troops -- including 42 Americans -- killed. Six more U.S. soldiers were killed on the first two days of August. The casualty toll is expected to remain high in the months ahead as U.S. troops are deployed to reclaim territory from the Taliban and block the insurgent offensive. In fact, the *Washington Post* reported July 31 that General Stanley McChrystal, the commander appointed by Obama to try to reverse the Taliban's remarkable comeback in Afghanistan, is likely to request further U.S. reinforcements beyond the extra 21,000 troops the President approved in the spring. McChrystal reportedly also hopes to nearly double the size of the Afghan security forces, although the Afghan government is unlikely for the foreseeable future to be in a position to pay an army of the size he envisions.

Despite deepening U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, the Administration is well aware of Americans' limited appetite for another long-term counterinsurgency commitment. As Defense Secretary Gates told the Los Angeles Times two weeks ago, "After the Iraq experience, nobody is prepared to have a long slog where it is not apparent we are making headway." And headway is proving largely elusive. Even those arguing for the efficacy of the clear-hold-build counterinsurgency strategy used in Iraq acknowledge that it will take years to bear fruit in Afghanistan.

Still, Obama is not necessarily stuck in a quagmire. Recognizing the limits of what could be achieved in Afghanistan, the President has scaled back U.S. ambitions from the Bush Administration's lofty objective of turning the country into a modern democracy. "We have a clear and focused goal," he said in a policy speech in March, "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future." That goal does not necessarily require the defeat of the Taliban per se -- a goal that many analysts have long deemed unrealistic. Many key Taliban leaders have little truck with bin Laden's global vision, seeing their own jihad as entirely local in its scale and objectives. Even in 2001, many were unconvinced that their own fate should be tied to bin Laden's, often resenting the presence of al-Qaeda's Arabs in their midst. Today's Taliban insurgency is diffuse, united mostly by hostility to foreign troops in their country and the often corrupt government they are there to defend.

Al-Qaeda is no longer even based in Afghanistan, its leaders now thought to be operating underground in Pakistan's tribal areas. Preventing it from reclaiming an Afghan sanctuary may not require keeping 70,000 or more U.S. troops in the country for years to come -- particularly since that deployment in itself is a key driver of the Taliban's insurgency.

The U.S. and its allies have clearly recognized that those now fighting for the Taliban will be in Afghanistan long after Western armies leave. Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in a speech to NATO July 27, called on the Afghan government "to separate hard-line ideologues, who are essentially irreconcilable and violent and who must be pursued relentlessly, from those who can be drawn into domestic political processes." He was quickly followed by U.S. Afghanistan-Pakistan Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, who told a BBC interviewer that "there is room in Afghan society for all those fighting with the Taliban who renounce al-Qaeda and its extremist allies, who lay down their arms and who participate in the political life of the country."

The most important obstacle to negotiating an acceptable compromise with the Taliban, however, is the fact that the insurgents -- and a substantial part of the population -- believe they're winning the war. That gives them no incentive to accept compromises offered by the government and the U.S. The purpose of the current U.S. "mini-surge" in Afghanistan, in fact, is largely to halt the Taliban's momentum, to create conditions, if not for victory, then for a stalemate in which growing numbers of fighters and commanders in the Taliban come to believe that they are unable to win on the battlefield.

The basic assumption of the U.S. political strategy in Afghanistan appears to be that the Taliban cannot be engaged from a position of weakness. Perceptions are exceedingly important in a warlord society with a long-established tradition of local commanders switching sides to back the force deemed most likely to prevail. It was that dynamic that explained the speed of the Taliban's capture of Kabul in a matter of months back in 1996. The same phenomenon saw its regime collapse even more rapidly when the U.S. invaded at the end of 2001. General McChrystal, in a recent interview in New Perspectives Quarterly, explained the offensive in Helmand largely on the basis of the impression it made on the minds of Afghans. "The reason I believe we need to be successful is . . . everybody's watching. I don't mean just in the United States or Europe. The Taliban is watching, the people of Afghanistan are watching," said McChrystal. On the basis of the Helmand operation, he added, "the Afghans will judge our resolve to see through the new strategy, our resolve to succeed."

Americans don't want a long war in Afghanistan. But the only way to avoid one may be to convince Afghans that the U.S. isn't going anywhere.